The NCAA ruled on Friday that Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa was ineligible to play for the remainder of this season, as well as the entirety of the 2019-20 season due to actions of a third party that he had no control over.
Back in October, Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola testified in federal court that he had paid De Sousa’s guardian Fenny Falmagne $2,500, and $20,000 to get out of a pay-to-play deal with Maryland. Since that revelation came out, De Sousa had been held out of competitions, and even sat out of the first 21 games of this season. To say that Kansas athletics staff members were infuriated would be an understatement.
“In my 30-plus years of coaching college basketball, I have never witnessed such a mean-spirited and vindictive punishment against a young man who did nothing wrong,” [Bill] Self said in a statement released shortly after the NCAA announced its ruling. “To take away his opportunity to play college basketball is shameful and a failure of the NCAA.
“Silvio is a tremendous young man who absolutely deserves to be on the court with his teammates in a Jayhawk uniform. This process took way too long to address these issues. We will support Silvio as he considers his options.”
“This was clearly an unfair and punitive ruling for a young man who had no knowledge of any NCAA violation, nor did Silvio personally benefit from the violation,” [Kansas athletic director Jeff] Long said in a statement. “While we will continue to work with the NCAA on the broader matter, we have an obligation and a desire to advocate for our student-athletes, and will continue to do that for an outstanding young man.”
And they’re right. To treat this ruling as anything other than a vindictive move on the NCAA’s part to punish a school that the organization believes has gotten away with some shady behavior over the years would be naive. It took some time to do it, but the NCAA finally found the scapegoat to bring the hammer down on with Kansas. That it happened because of one of the dumbest rules that the organization forces programs to follow is only that much more infuriating.
Also frustrating is how the NCAA supposedly arrived at the conclusion that De Sousa’s guardian was guilty. The decision was made quickly after the reinstatement request, meaning there is no way a legitimate, thorough investigation took place in good faith. The only “facts” brought up in this case were all bits from Gassnola’s trial in October and the wording seems to suggest that it came solely from his testimony.
If you ask Falmagne, which the Kansas City Star did, he does not deny receiving $2,500, but says instead that he donated that money to a church and has sent the NCAA proof of the transaction along with statements from both his and De Sousa’s bank accounts. However, he does deny ever receiving $20,000 from Gassnola. Still, the most compelling argument he makes is that at no point did the FBI come knocking on his door to talk to him about Gassnola’s wire fraud case because they didn’t have any reason to. Nevertheless, the NCAA persisted with its ruling.
The NCAA can’t even hide under the veil of inexperience with cases like this in its terrible, terrible judgment. Cam Newton was in a similar situation back in 2010 when it was alleged that his dad told two Mississippi State football coaches that the school would have to pay to sign the player. Newton was declared ineligible for all of one day before the NCAA reinstated him shortly after Auburn filed an appeal that argued the quarterback knew nothing of his father’s actions, much like what De Sousa’s lawyer argued for him. Outside of the sport, the only difference between the two cases is that the NCAA got it right in one, and failed miserably in the other.
According to De Sousa’s lawyers, never at any point did he receive any money for his decision to go to Kansas, nor did he have any knowledge of any illicit funds being exchanged in connection to his decision. The facts seem to point to this being the case, but the NCAA would like you to believe that this, particularly the latter, doesn’t matter. The NCAA would like you to instead believe that a teenager has enough control over his parent, or guardian in this case, to exercise his will over their judgments and decisions made behind the athlete’s back, and that failure to do so should result in punishment for the player himself. The NCAA would also like you to believe that throwing wrench into a 20-year-old’s career path and harming a team’s depth for the season is the right decision in the fight to preserve amateurism despite the fact that the money in question never touched either of those party’s hands. But none of that is true. No matter how hard the NCAA tries to make people believe otherwise, the fact of the matter is that De Sousa isn’t an example to be used as a cautionary tale for other programs, he’s a victim of the organization’s true lack of care for its student-athletes.